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Safe biking tips for summer.

So what if you're no Lance Armstrong, six-time winner of the Tour de France. Even beginning cyclists should be armed with health information that can help reduce strain, injury, and infection, says Luis Palacios, associate professor of family and community medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.

Staying safe while on a bike means more than wearing a helmet. Proper fit between bike and rider, following preventive measures, and knowing first-aid are essential for a safe outing. For instance, knee and back pain can afflict even the most seasoned riders. However, most bicycle shops will help you find the right-sized bike and even adjust the seat for a proper fit, which will head off most joint difficulties.

"These problems are usually associated with bike positioning as well as training technique," Palacios explains. "When the seat is too high, it can increase stress on the lower back and hamstrings. If it's too low, problems with the distal quadriceps and anterior knee can occur."

Moreover, it is important to know the best riding techniques. If riders pedal slowly with high resistance (using the big chain ring and smaller cogs), they can strain their quadriceps or knees. Pedaling fast with low resistance can cause increased pressure on the base of the pelvic region and back. Most experienced cyclists will have a cadence (revolutions per minute) between 90-100. For beginning cyclists, a reasonable and energy-efficient cadence might be between 60-80.

Whether riding a 100-mile race or just exercising at a leisurely pace, getting the right mix of carbohydrates and protein before, during, and after a ride is essential. "Research indicates that, for someone in training, carbohydrates are an important source of energy. A healthy diet would include one with 60% carbohydrates, less than 30% fats, and 15 to 20% protein," Palacios advises. "For activities, including warm-ups, lasting less than one hour, water--which deters cramping--is sufficient. If the activity lasts longer than 60 minutes, carbohydrate supplements in the form of sports drinks, carbohydrate bars, or gels would be beneficial."

Chafing or skin irritation--often called "saddle sores"--is a common annoyance for cyclists. It can be minimized by purchasing properly fitted seats and wearing cycling shorts with plenty of moisture-absorbing padding in the bottom. "In my experience, the biggest problem I see with cyclists is hygiene," Palacios relates. "Cyclists should remove sweaty clothing as soon as possible after training or racing and shower. In addition, one should wash clothes after every use to prevent irritation or infection of broken skin."

Falls are an unpleasant but inevitable part of biking. There are multiple remedies to help heal scrapes with minimal scarring. The important thing is to wash and clean the area. There are a variety of antiseptic skin cleansers available for this purpose. "Failure to do this can lead to tattooing of the affected area from retained gravel, dirt, or oil," Palacios cautions. "After cleansing, the affected area should be covered with a dressing and a topical antibiotic such as bacitracin, polysporin, or silvadene, which help prevent infection and decrease pain."

One of the most important things for cyclists to learn is how to avoid heat-related problems. It takes approximately two weeks to acclimate to heat, longer for extreme heat. If preparing to ride in high heat for a prolonged period of time, a cyclist should build up slowly, by initially limiting workouts to one hour or less, train during the cooler parts of the day, and always hydrate.

RELATED ARTICLE: Look out for children.

Pediatric trauma doctors always can tell when school lets out for the summer: the number of kids on bicycles struck by cars rises sharply. "Children are out more and people drive faster in school zones and crossings during summer," notes Todd Maxson, assistant professor of surgery who heads up the pediatric trauma program at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.

Maxson offers these tips to avoid accidents:

* Do not ride at dusk, in the dark, or at any other time outdoor lighting is poor.

* Wear brightly colored clothes and helmets--this goes for adult riders, too.

* Avoid parking lots unless they are empty, because traffic can be unpredictable.

If someone is struck, Maxson says to keep the injured motionless until rescuers arrive--only move the victim if he or she is likely to be hit again. Also, be calm and reassuring.
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Title Annotation:Your Life
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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